CPAWS-BC’s response to the discovery of the remains of Indigenous children in residential school mass graves across Canada

CPAWS-BC’s response to the discovery of the remains of Indigenous children in residential school mass graves across Canada

Acknowledgement of the impact of residential schools is required for reconciliation and healing

July 05, 2021, Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Territories / Vancouver, BC – CPAWS-BC is heartbroken over the recent confirmation of the existence of unmarked burial sites at four former Indian Residential School locations across Canada.

We grieve the loss of 215 souls at Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc near Kamloops, 104 souls in Sioux Valley Dakota territory near Brandon, 751 souls on Cowessess First Nation near Marieval, and 182 souls in Ktunaxa Territory near Cranbrook.

First Nations communities have always known about unmarked burial grounds on the sites of Indian Residential Schools, but their requests to uncover the truth were not heeded until now. 

Indigenous staff and board members at CPAWS-BC and other CPAWS offices across the country have been impacted directly by the actions of Canada’s colonial system. CPAWS-BC’s Indigenous partners and collaborators are Survivors and intergenerational Survivors of the Indian Residential School system. We have spent recent weeks making space to mourn, rest, listen, and reflect during this time of trauma and healing for our colleagues, partners, and their communities. 

The conservation movement has played and continues to play a role in the violent displacement of Indigenous peoples from their home lands and waters, which are integral to their spirituality, their health, and their healing. The whiteness of conservation still remains in both leadership and values, which continues to perpetuate systemic oppression and erasure of Indigenous Peoples. 

CPAWS-BC has a responsibility as a leader in the conservation movement to take steps that can begin to heal relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and the lands and waters where we work. We must decolonize our work to ensure that we are supporting Indigenous stewardship, resilience, and resurgence. We recognize that reconciliation and decolonization is an ongoing process that requires all of us to be actively involved and responsible as our collective learning evolves. We also acknowledge that it’s not up to non-Indigenous people in Canada to determine if our actions are effective. 

As we work toward achieving the protection of diverse ecosystems, CPAWS-BC is committed to doing so in the spirit of truth and reconciliation, recognizing the essential leadership of the Indigenous stewards who have cared for these lands and waters since time immemorial. We are committed to deepening our relationships with Indigenous partners and we recognize that it is our responsibility to support Indigenous Peoples to safeguard land and water for future generations and advance shared conservation priorities based on relationships, respect, and reciprocity.

These recent confirmations of burial sites on the grounds of so-called schools must serve as a crucial reminder to non-Indigenous people of the reality of the genocide that was committed against Indigenous Peoples in Canada. But Indigenous Peoples have resisted and endured. We remain hopeful that these findings and the powerful collective response helps further our learning and remind all those who reside here of the important work that must be done to create change for the future. We know Indigenous-led conservation can help advance reconciliation in BC. We encourage the federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to ensure survival, dignity and well-being of Indigenous Peoples .

You can support Indigenous communities working through trauma, grief,and healing during this time by donating to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society, the Orange Shirt Society, and by reading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) Calls to Action.


Annita Mcphee
Executive Director CPAWS-BC

For more information please contact:

Rippon Madtha
Communications Manager 
604-685-7445 (x 23)